The COVID-19 pandemic has provided individuals across the world with more time to self-reflect than ever before. Spending more time at home and losing privileges like dining at our favorite restaurants, traveling and getting together with friends, to name a few, our minds and bodies are challenged to acclimate to this brand new, unexpected “lifestyle.”
Many clients have vocalized their desire to use this time to focus inward, to stretch themselves mentally and physically, to reconnect with their values and commit to healthy self-improvement. To pivot and execute growth and healthy development though, we must first conduct self-inventory to understand who we are when we’re healthy AND unhealthy. To lay the groundwork for transformation, we need to get honest about who we are when we’re living in the light as well as caught in the dark. In the spirit of Socrates, to make more informed decisions, to foster acceptance and to effect lasting change in our lives, we must first know ourselves.
Cue the Enneagram, a personality typing system that describes personality in terms of nine types, with each type motivated by their own set of core emotions, fears and beliefs.
See the nine listed below, with a brief description of each personality in italics pulled from Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery:
- Ones: Perfectionists (or Reformers) Ethical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.
- Twos: Helpers Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.
- Threes: Performers (or Achievers) Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.
- Fours: Romantics (or Individualists) Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their oversized feelings and avoid being ordinary.
- Fives: Investigators Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.
- Sixes: Loyalists Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case-scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.
- Sevens: Enthusiasts Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.
- Eights: Challengers Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.
Nines: Peacemakers Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.
As you perused these summaries, do you see yourself in any of them? Which one convicted you upon first read? You might’ve even seen yourself in a few, and that’s because the nine personalities don’t exist in isolation of one another. They are interconnected AND triadic!
Eights, Nines, and Ones are driven by anger, as part of the Anger or Gut Triad. Twos, Threes and Fours are part of the Feeling of Heart Triad, motivated by their feelings. Fives, Sixes and Sevens are housed within the Fear or Head Triad, driven by fear in their own unique ways.
With regard to interconnection, we are adaptable and ever-evolving beings. Sometimes we find ourselves in healthy, so-so and unhealthy periods – such is life. Depending on what we have going on around us, like a worldwide pandemic, we may find ourselves in different mental spots on different days. Although our personality type does not change, our behaviors do. For example, in a state of stress, Twos (Helpers) take on the negative traits of Eights (Challengers), whereas in a state of security, Twos draw energy from Fours (Romantics).
The nine types even have relationships with their “number neighbors”, also known as wings. For example, you might be a Four wing Three (4w3) or a Nine wing One (9w1). The motivation behind what you do may be unwavering (your type), and that doesn’t mean you don’t have any traits in common with your number neighbors (wings).
The purpose of the Enneagram is to help name and identify your lived experiences and feelings, a tool that can propel you to author a new story moving forward. Let me forewarn you, reading about your type when it’s in an unhealthy state may make you cringe and uncomfortable (I speak from experience). This is expected though! Some of us, clients included, have never had such an honest encounter with who we are and why we do what we do. If we don’t invest the time and energy in conducting such an inventory about ourselves throughout our therapeutic process, we might unknowingly build paths for change on foundations of sand.
The Enneagram isn’t the only tool that can help our clients “get real” but it is a readily available one. Not to mention, it can serve as a great talking point for clients who are motivated to change and yet, feel as if they can’t get out of their own way.
If this introduction to the Enneagram piqued your interest, I encourage you to visit The Enneagram Institute to read detailed descriptions of each type and learn more about how different types interact, behaved as children, present themselves in the workplace, and more. I also empower you to take the Enneagram Type Indicator assessment ($12 per use) to learn more about what you bring into the room with your clients. There are free assessments available online (click HERE) that are not affiliated with the institute and are not as in-depth in nature.
I hope the Enneagram proves useful to you in your practice and cultivation of self-discovery and understanding during this unprecedented time.